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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Delaware reporter fired for blogging

Matt Donegan, 24, a copy editor for the reporter for the Dover Post, was fired from his job Monday for posts he made to his personal blog. I found this article explaining the situation. Apparently, the Post editors canned him after somebody who read his Myspace site called in to a talk radio program to complain about it.

The complainers say that Donegan made offensive remarks. Here's what's being billed as the worst of them:

The blog features many sexual references, along with a complaint about Donegan's black neighbors partying late into the night Jan. 15 because they didn't have to get up for work the following day: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"I bet James Earl Ray [King's assassin] was woken up by black people yelling pointlessly in the streets the night before he killed your civil rights leader," Donegan wrote.

But Donegan says it was all a joke. He says he's not a racist. He points to other satirical comments on his site, and says he's just goofing around. He says the paper violated his right to free speech when it canned him. Hmmm. I wonder if they had a blogging policy at the Dover Post?

I have two comments about this situation. First of all, what a dumbass. The guy works in media and hasn't figured out that anything he writes online can be traced back to him? And he thinks his employers won't care? Gimme a break. Should he have been fired? I don't think I know enough about his relationship with his editors or his work at the paper or his attitude to venture an opinion. But what he did was unprofessional. And truly stupid.

BUT... he brings up an interesting point in a blog post about his termination. He points out that he does, in fact, have a growing audience for his ramblings.

It feels great to have people read what I write; you know, the things that aren't about Capital School Districts financial troubles or goats with No. 3 bleached into their hair by rednecks. Writing that kind of drivel is just about as interesting as reading it — which is not at all.

I think observations like this make media watchers nervous. When gutsy, clever and interesting writers leave newspapers (or get fired) in favor of finding their own audiences online, who will report the "boring" news in the newspapers? More importantly, who will read the papers? Who will pay for the papers?

I think this guy sounds like an asshole, but he's not a bad writer. He might still have a future in journalism. Just maybe not in the newspaper biz.

UPDATE 2/2/05: I take back what I said about not having a future in the newspaper biz. He could write for an edgy alt. weekly... if he wised up and either got permission from his editors to blog, or worked out a deal where they let him do whatever the hell he wants.

One of my editors just forwarded me an email she got from Donegan, who is actively shopping himself and his story to alt. weekly editors. Smart guy. Sounds like he's both looking for a job, and looking for some sympathetic coverage. He says he's contacted a bunch of civil rights orgs and prominent bloggers to take up his case.

And he writes, "While Delaware is a "fire-at-will" state, it's absurd to think someone could be canned for something like this." Well, it might seem absurd, but it's happened many times before, and it will happen again, until people learn that they'll be held accountable for what they publish online. You'd think that with all the media coverage of people GETTING FIRED FROM THEIR JOBS FOR BLOGGING, any reporter worth his notebook might have learned that if you want to avoid this mess, you use a pseudonym. Or at the very least, talk to your boss, find out what the blogging policy is, and work out some kind of understanding.

February 1, 2006 at 09:39 AM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink


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I think that he should not have been fired for having a personal blog that he kept on his own time. We are not our jobs; there is more to a person than the work they do. Our bosses own us for 8 hours a day, but what we do in our off hours, unless it directly impacts that 8 hour window, they should have no say at all.

This is a troubling trend. Employers should not have any say at all as to what employees do on off hours during their own private time if it does not affect their job performance.

The argument could be made that Matt's personal writings damaged his reputation, which reflected on the reputation of the paper.

Once again, I think that it is more a matter of keeping business and personal separate. His personal reputation was called into question, not his professional reputation. His ability to competently do his job was not questioned, either because of his private writings or otherwise.

This is just a bit of a sore spot with me. We are not our jobs... even if our bosses think that we are.

Posted by: Gravity | Feb 1, 2006 10:47:03 AM

Oh man, are people still witlessly scuttling their own jobs when their un-anonymous blogs incite their bosses' ire? See Dooce and it's recent local near-replica, the Roger's Blog incident.

At some point the blog-loosely-and-lose-job thing will seem as 20th Century as surfing for porn at work. Oops.

Posted by: Nate O. | Feb 3, 2006 10:40:03 PM

I have to agree with the earlier comment about our jobs not owning us, but then thats capitalism and bussness rules. SO I don't think you could argue that point, though a very good one. However I would like to say what troubles me is that this country's people as well as its news papers have forgotten their true purpose in the order of goverment. Theres no doubt the media has been overtaken by our political system. When a reporter gets fired for telling the truth about what he or she has seen,its a violation of we as the people's contitutional right to the freedom of the press. Throughout our history it was the press that informed the people the truth of what was going on in goverment. If it wasn't for a reporter we the people would have never knew about the Nixon affair with Watergate. The press was always on the side of the people giving them all of the story or as one great reporter has said the rest of the story. And why, wht did reporters risk and still risk their lives to give us the truth, I not being a reporter myself can only sumize here, they do so because they know only when well informed can you then make a good decision, like , who should be our next Senator , or governor or even president. When I hear of a reporter getting fired for speaking on his own time what he wants I see a man who has had his enaliable rights infringed upon. And as for the news or media company that would do such a thing is crying out to the people clearly whose side they are on, and I can assure you its not the peoples'. The media could be our watchdog of political corruption and create a form of checks and balances between the people and what really goes on in the political arena, then such situations with businesses wouldn't have to happen out of fear. The core of the problem is the defintion of the press in our constitution. Its been allowed to believe that to mean only the press, so that meant all other forms of media came under the scrutiny of the goverment censorship. I would wish that the Supreme court would re-evaluate that word as the media of its time, for at that time it was the only form of what we call today as media.I think its understandable to say that since the writing of the constitution the word press if wrote today would go to mean media and therefore putting the freedom of the press as well as the rest of all media forms a freedom for which belongs constitutionally in the hands and for the good of the people. You can blog me at my site agieart.com

Posted by: Agnes Kaminski | Nov 17, 2006 9:13:40 PM

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